General election: who will win in East Lothian?
New polling data suggests SNP and Labour in dead heat
THE contest for East Lothian is probably one of the most closely-fought of this election, with new polling data showing Labour and the SNP just 0.2 per cent apart.
Martin Whitfield won the seat for Labour last time, ousting the SNP’s George Kerevan who had taken it in 2015. But this time the SNP candidate is former Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill, looking to put his Holyrood experience to good use at Westminster.
A seat-by-seat analysis from a UK-wide survey of over 28,000 voters by Focaldata suggests in East Lothian the votes split 32.5 per cent for the SNP, 32.3 per cent for Labour and 25.5 per cent for the Tories.
Mr Whitfield says: “This seat is on a knife-edge and just a few votes could decide the result either way.
“The Tories are no longer at the races, so any Tory and LibDem voters who want to ensure they don’t wake up on Friday with an SNP MP need to lend their vote to Labour.
“I will campaign relentlessly to remain in both the UK and the EU, in a seat that voted overwhelmingly against independence and Brexit.”
He says Labour is getting “very positive vibes” from its door-knocking in areas such as Prestonpans, Tranent, Ormiston and Musselburgh.
“They’re not throwing the SNP in our faces the way that happened in 2015. People are coming up in the street and being very positive.”
He accuses Mr MacAskill of seeing East Lothian as “a stepping stone to independence” and notes Haddington sheriff court and local police station counters were closed during his time in charge of justice.
Mr Whitfield says: “It’s interesting that both Kenny and Craig [Hoy, Tory candidate] have talked about what they can do for Scotland rather than what they can do for East Lothian. I think people in East Lothian notice that.”
He says one of the key issues he was involved over the past two and a half years as MP was helping individuals affected by Universal Credit. “We were a roll-out area - people suffered here harder for longer than other people have done. Universal Credit just does not work and anyone who says otherwise is being disingenuous.”
The new polling projection comes after a UK-wide YouGov poll, applied to East Lothian suggested the SNP would win with 34 per cent over Labour on 29.
Mr MacAskill says he is “optimistic and hopeful”. He says the issues are the national issues - “climate change, Brexit, austerity and the right of Scotland to choose a different direction as opposed to a Boris Johnson-imposed Brexit”.
He continues: “People are worried about what might happen. ‘Get Brexit done’ is the most vacuous political phrase this century - and it is falling deaf ears in what is a significantly Remain constituency.”
Mr MacAskill says the difference between the SNP and Labour is “we know what we’re for”. He goes on: “It’s hard to fathom just what Labour’s position on Brexit is, whether Jeremy Corbyn is for it or not. I think people are bemused by Labour’s failure to grasp the nettle.”
He says Scotland must have the right to choose a different way. “That may not be independence and it will be for each individual to choose, if there’s a next referendum, how they will vote. But there has to be a better way to run our society than the course we’re currently on.”
Mr MacAskill was an MSP for 17 years until standing down in 2016. He says he has recharged his batteries and is ready to re-enter the fray.
“I believe I still have things to give. I learned a lot from having the privilege of serving at Holyrood. I think that adds as part of the ballast I can take as part of the SNP group to Westminster and provide for a constituency that has many challenges.”
Tory candidate Craig Hoy, who won the Haddington and Lammermuirs council by-election for the party earlier this year, claims the contest is really a two-horse race between him and the SNP because Labour has signalled it would agree to another independence vote at some stage.
“I think the Labour vote is melting away,” he says. “People want clarity on the question of Indyref2 and we’re giving a very unambiguous statement on that. This is a very pro-union area, so our challenge now is just to galvanise that pro-union vote and get our core vote out in traditional areas like Longniddry, North Berwick, Gullane - but areas like Prestonpans are looking good for us because there’s a strong unionist vote and they’re very disheartened with Labour.”
He says many traditional Labour voters do not like Jeremy Corbyn. On his own leader he says: “Boris is Boris. He is a colourful character but I think people will judge him on what he does in office.”
Lib Dem Robert O’Riordan, who worked in investments for 35 years and retired four years ago, says people are fed-up with politics and think the system is broken.
He notes three of the four candidates are pro-EU but they disagree on independence. “Our line is this is not the time for a Scottish referendum. We are already a divided country and a further referendum would pile division on division.
“And the last thing we need is nine years more austerity, as predicted in the SNP’s growth commission report.”
David Sisson is standing for Ukip.